Media mentions

"How the Kremlin Tried to Pose as American News Sites on Twitter," by Selina Wang, Bloomberg News. Dec 5, 2017.

Shaffer's analysis of the accounts found that several of the imposter news accounts also tweeted during the French presidential election. He surfaced about 41 Tweets from accounts including @WorldNewsPoli, @TodayMiami, @DetroitDailyNew, and @ChicagoDailyNew. Most of the posts were retweets of local news articles, but more than a quarter of them included stories from, a known disinformation site, according to Shaffer. Those stories were mostly attacking Emmanuel Macron, who won the election, and biased toward Marine Le Pen, a far-right politician in France.

"How to Teach Children to Think Critically and Recognize Fake News," by Scott Alexander, Family Circle.

Science has shown that simple repetition gradually wears down your mental defenses toward false information, even for conscious disbelievers. “Familiarity breeds believability,” says Kris Shaffer, PhD, instructional technology specialist at University of Mary Washington. Put another way: Hearing something multiple times is powerful.

"Net Neutrality Rollback Concerns Colleges," by Lindsay McKenzie, Inside Higher Ed. November 29, 2017.

“The internet was invented for universities. If educational content is now going to take a back seat … it’s disheartening, to say the least,” said Shaffer.

"The Bots That Are changing Politics," by Renee DiResta, John Little, Jonathon Morgan, Lisa Maria Neudert, and Ben Nimmo, Motherboard. November 2, 2017.

Data for Democracy researchers Kris Shaffer, Ben Starling, and C.E. Carey noted this phenomenon after French president Emmanuel Macron's campaign emails were hacked just days before the French elections. A group of users organized in the "/pol" channel in the anonymous internet community 4chan. Shaffer, Starling, and Carey tracked how these catalyst users designed a campaign intended to disseminate the hacked Macron campaign data to a more mainstream audience on Twitter.

"Twitter Is Crawling With Bots and Lacks Incentive to Expel Them," by Selina Wang, Bloomberg News. October 13, 2017.

Kris Shaffer, a data scientist doing research for the University of Mary Washington and the Data for Democracy, found that those strategies were widely used in the lead up to the French election. Many tweets with mentions of LePen or Macron received automatic replies with disparaging information about the candidates.
"The fact they [Twitter] isn't dealing adequately with the propaganda and abuse problems either means they can't do what they say they can do or they can but they aren't telling the truth about the abuse problem," says Shaffer.

"Researchers Are Upset That Twitter Is Dismissing Their Work On Election Interference," by Charlie Warzel, Buzzfeed News. October 3, 2017.

Twitter’s comment was a clear and pointed warning: Third-party academic research about its platform is limited in scope and shouldn’t always be trusted. Kris Shaffer, a professor and data scientist at the University of Mary Washington who has studied bots and misinformation on Twitter, summed it up this way: “You can only trust Twitter to tell you what's really going on on Twitter.”

"We are not done with state-sponsored hacking—far from it," by Frédéric Filloux, Quartz. May 11, 2017.

Hackers and fake news promoters have access to a tremendous amount of tech tools to propagate their messages. In the minutes following the Macron hacking, legions of bots took over. In his analysis, data scientist Kris Shaffer notes: "5% of users accounted for a full 40% of the tweets. The most prolific account tweeted 1668 times in the roughly 24 hours of data—that’s faster than a single (re)tweet per minute, all day with no sleep." [NB: this quote was from a collaborative article, written with Ben Starling and CE Carey, not by myself alone as Quartz states.]

"Macron hack attack, clumsy and ignored, is met with Gallic shrug," by Carol Matlack, Bloomberg News. May 8, 2017.

Data for Democracy, a non-profit U.S. group that studies the spread of disinformation online, said its analysis showed that most early Twitter activity on the data dump came from a handful of prolific users. “Five percent of users accounted for a full 40 percent of the tweets,” with one account tweeting 1,668 times in 24 hours, the group said in a report on Saturday. Such accounts appear to be operated by “automation rather than a highly active human,” the report said. [NB: D4D is not officially a non-profit. We are (currently) a volunteer collective with no finances.]

"Robotok háborúztak tovább a kampánycsend idején," by Dömös Zsuzsanna, (Hungarian). May 8, 2017.

Egy vizsgálat szerint a kampányban résztvevő fiókok öt százaléka felelt az összes tweet 40 százalékáért. "A legaktívabb robotfiók 24 óra alatt 1668 tweetet tett közzé, ami azt jelenti, hogy percenként több mint egy bejegyzést posztolt."

"U.S. Far-Right Activists Promote Hacking Attack Against Macron," by Mark Scott, New York Times. May 6, 2017.

Researchers from the University of Mary Washington also found that just 5 percent of Twitter accounts promoting the #MacronGate hashtag accounted for almost half of all the Twitter posts. The frequency of that activity, the security experts warned, was a telltale sign of bot activity, helping expand the reach of these posts on social networks. [NB: only I am from UMW, Starling and Carey are my Data for Democracy research colleagues.]

"American Alt-Right and Twitter Bots Are Key to Spreading French Election Hack," by Daniel Politi, Slate. May 6, 2017.

An extraordinary number of tweets about Macron’s campaign in the day before the vote appear to be coming from automated accounts. One study found that “five percent of users accounted for a full 40 percent of the tweets” related to the French election researchers wrote. One account tweeted a whopping 1,668 times in 24 hours, faster than one per minute. And it was hardly alone. “For several of these accounts, the tweets were coming through in bursts too fast for an individual to keep up with them, suggesting automation rather than a highly active human.”

"Information Literacy" (paywalled), by Shannon Najmabadi, Chronicle of Higher Education. February 26, 2017.

[Spreading digital literacy instruction throughout the curriculum] can be a challenge, since faculty members are already pressed for time to cover course material. And some may be less comfortable with digital tools than their students are, or view such skills as ancillary to those needed for an academic assignment, says Kris Shaffer, an instructional-technology specialist at the University of Mary Washington.
A month after the election, Mr. Shaffer published an article calling for a new kind of literacy, one that merges a traditional emphasis on critical thinking with technical know-how. Students and faculty members, he says, also need to understand social-media pitfalls, search-engine rankings, and the way in which algorithms cull and conceal content. "Help awaken your students to these new practices of digital deception, and help them face them effectively," he wrote. The necessary literacy "is more than traditional information literacy applied to digital media," and more than just technical knowledge.